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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Key matchup: Gonzaga preparing for ‘big-time player’ in TCU guard Mike Miles Jr.

March 18, 2023 Updated Sat., March 18, 2023 at 8:45 p.m.

DENVER – Drew Timme occasionally trains with Mike Miles Jr. in the offseason. Rasir Bolton had two encounters with the TCU guard during his 2020-21 season at Iowa State. Coach Mark Few saw Miles in action two summers ago when he teamed up with Chet Holmgren on Team USA’s U-19 FIBA World Cup team.

The rest of Gonzaga’s roster will get the firsthand experience on Sunday when the Bulldogs and Horned Frogs face off in a round of 32 game at Ball Arena.

The Zags have encountered five players – all guards – who made up the Big 12’s three all-conference teams, facing the Baylor trio of Keyonte George, Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer in a neutral-site game in South Dakota after playing Texas’ Marcus Carr and Sir’Jabari Rice a month prior.

After Sunday’s matchup with Miles and fellow TCU guard Damion Baugh, Gonzaga will have seen nearly half of the Big 12’s 15 all-conference choices, and seven of the 12 guards who made the cut.

Miles presents a similar challenge with his ability to penetrate, knock down midrange shots, hurt opponents from the 3-point line and get to the free-throw line.

“He’s a helluva player and he knows it,” Timme said. “He just has this confidence about him. He just knows he’s going to get to his spots, he’s going to draw fouls and he can score at all three levels. He’s strong, too. I don’t think people talk about how strong he is, but he’s quick and strong, so that’s a problem.”

The Highlands, Texas, native often has 20- or 30-point games against Big 12 opponents intimately familiar with his game.

The Zags, meanwhile, have never faced Miles and will be cooking up a plan for the dynamic junior guard on less than 48 hours’ notice.

“Just really, really, really impressed just with his explosiveness and his game and how he can just take over a game at that position and the pace that he plays with,” Few said. “We don’t often run into teams that like to play as fast as we do, and they certainly do. And he’s obviously the driving force and engine behind that, and his ability to get by guys and go downhill and finish with force is really, really impressive.”

Miles was the Big 12’s third-leading scorer, averaging 17.6 points per game on 49% shooting from the field and 35% from the 3-point line. He shot the fourth-most free throws in the Big-12 with 122 and is making them at a 73.9% clip.

The Zags have struggled with explosive guards at times this year, both in nonconference games and West Coast Conference play, and it’s likely three or four will get opportunities to see what they can do against Miles .

“We’ve got to guard him as a team,” Bolton said. “… I think as a team we have to be ready to load up, be ready for his drives. He likes to go left, likes to use his crossover. I think just forcing him into tough shots.”

Miles scored 26 points and made 12 of 14 free throws in Friday’s opening-round win over Arizona State. Few was impressed with Miles’ selfless play on the final possession when he was double-teamed by two ASU defenders before dishing the ball to JaKobe Coles for the winning floater.

“He had been getting downhill, downhill, downhill and making all kinds of plays, and he recognized it probably wasn’t going to happen on that play,” Few said. “And he makes a pass, and that was the pass that led to the basket. Big-time player.”

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